Category Archives: Urbana09

Larry, Tony and His Whispers.

At the end of every day at Urbana, I would have the same feeling. The feeling made my stomach turn, a throbbing in my throat, with my heart about to jump out of my chest and my mouth uncontrollably releasing sighs of tiredness.  My job at Urbana was to do one on one prayer ministry every day from 2-5 (which turned to 1-6:30 easily). I would see God’s power as He spoke to students and even brought significant healing and direction to them. It was amazing to see God work so much. I was in awe of what God would do each day. But I prayed for so many people each of days. I kept track one day- I prayed for 15 people. And this wasn’t your 2 minute prayers of blessing… usually at least 20 minutes for each person, sometimes going up to 45 minutes-1 hour. It was exhilirating. But it was draining, as I poured myself into each person’s brokenness. By the end of each day, I would find myself in a horrible contradicting state- I was so spent pouring into people that I did not want to talk to anybody, but at the same time felt an extreme lonliness and thirst for community.

“I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”- Elijah (1 Kings 19:10)

Whenever I read this passage, there’s part of me that thinks that Elijah is so narrow minded! Just one chapter before, Elijah had witnessed God use him to be part of an awesome display of power and glory. Fire came down in power on an altar, rendering the acts of religiosity by the priests of Ba’al insignificant and a sham, as the true God displayed His authority. Elijah, how can you lose perspective so quickly?
But the part of me that scoffs at Elijah’s lack of faith is small, because really, that was my complaint at the end of every day at Urbana. In the midst of my lack of energy, motivation and joy, I was in desperate need of God’s whisper, that gentle, yet earth shaking sound of His voice. The cool thing was that that I did get to experience those whispers. Every time I came to the end of myself, God came at the right moment to pick me back up. Here are 2 “whispers” I encountered during my week at Urbana.

“Larry (changed name, don’t know if he’d be embarrassed to be written about)

I stumbled into the staff lounge. I was ready to just eat a cup noodle, munch on a PB&J and disappear into a couch and sleep. I had spent the whole day praying for people who had never heard the voice of God. And although it’s actually my favorite group of people to pray for, it gets tiring when you have to repeat your same pep-talk encouraging the person that God actually might have something to say to them every. single. time. I was in desperate need to hear from God for myself, but was too tired to seek for it by the end of the day.
Just as I was grabbing my cup noodle, a man approached me and tried to get to know me. I was tired and wanted nothing to do with meeting a new person. Worse, it seemed like he was talkative. Usually I don’t mind, but I really didn’t want it.

But I looked at him. First of all, he was significantly older than the rest of the staff. Especially being in the San Diego region, it’s rare to find somebody over the age of 35 still doing our job. Not that elders are any worse than younger people, but honestly, being an IV staffworker is tough work, and if you stay at the job for longer than 5 years, something must be different about you. There had to be something different about this guy to still be doing this job at his age.

So I investigated. and what I had expected to be a short cursory conversation turned into a treasure box of stories and deeply held passion for college students. He had been everything from a farmer, an engineer, a seminary student, on staff at a church, in charge of a camp, and finally working on campus. He spoke of seeing God work in powerful ways among his students. And you could see his awareness of God’s goodness. Then he looked at me and talked about how he had lost his arm. He probably knew that I had avoided talking about it, sensed my inability to engage it. There was a richness of Larry’s experience of God’s grace that was formed from his recent battle with cancer that led to the amputation of his arm. I was in awe… I could only imagine myself becoming bitter and angry… but in this man, there was joy and faith… amazing.

I looked at my watch. I had listened to him for an hour. And it didn’t tire me out- i came out refreshed, inspired, and full of praise at how good our God is. That man was an amazing man of humility and grace, when I think about him, a silent thankfulness takes over me. And in that silence, i realize that I did more than listen to a man’s stories… I heard the whisper of God.

Tony


It was the last day. I was fried. My friend Maghan found me in the prayer room with a blank stare into nothing. I felt totally depleted. If I had to pray for another person, I felt like my body would lose its form and turn into a puddle of tired and dilapidated will. People were calling me and I ignored all of them. I just stared. And she yanked me out of the seat and made me go out and look for something to eat with her. I probably needed it. And I was dragged into the cold St. Louis air, where the pleasant snow had turned to a light drizzle. We needed to find something quick, because the plenary was about to begin.

As we walked quickly to find something that was open, a man approached us. He was homeless. I had seen him earlier in the week and had tried to ignore him. “Hey guys, i’m an aspiring hip hop artist, and I’m trying to see what people think of my rhymes.” I was about to tell him I had no cash (I wasn’t lying), and that I didn’t want to hear him. But Maghan annoyingly told him that she’d love to hear his stuff. Oh God, why won’t you just give me a break already? was what was running through my head.

Then Tony spit out his rhymes, about how much he tried to escape the streets, but they kept calling him back. I don’t remember most of it, but the line that really stayed in my memory was “God, send your rain on me, send your rain on me”. I started to feel compassion for the guy, although my tiredness didn’t want to feel it.

Finally I relented to the Holy Spirit and we invited him to eat with us. At first, we were just going to find some fast food, but everything was closed for new years eve. Quite the night to look for food. Even Hardee’s (Carls Jr, for us westcoasters)  was closed. The only restaurant open was… TGIF’s. I felt this was cruel of God, to force me to keep giving, to keep listening to this man, who really needed God but I felt like I had no strength to engage.

The three of us rushed into the TGIF, shivering from looking for so long for something that was open. We sat down and I told him price was not an object, and that we were going to treat him. And as we sat there thawing our numb cheeks, I think something else was thawing in the process- my heart. As we sat and listened to his stories and how he ended up on the streets, i felt my heart of frozen stone start to beat. This tired heart, tired from hearing people’s problems and crap… was somehow finding life in hearing about somebody’s problems and crap. It didn’t make sense. We made jokes, talked about how ridiculous our table looked in the restaurant- a chinese man, a black man and a white woman. Laughter. I didn’t realize how much I needed laughter after a day of praying for all the burdens that people needed to bring to God.

When Tony had finished his full rack of ribs (haha it was a lot, but we were both horrified that Maghan never liked ribs, so it was only right that he would order them), we got up and walked to the door. And I unbelievably felt that I needed to pray for him. As I told him I wanted to pray for him, I was chuckling to myself that just an hour and a half before, I didn’t want to pray for one more person. We prayed for him, and walked out the door, expecting to part ways as we needed to get to the last plenary session. We said goodbye, Tony said he needed to find some other people to demo his rhymes… and then an awkward silence. He was lonely. We told him to walk back with us.
When we got back to the convention center, we made our final goodbyes (for reals), maghan gave him her bible, with Isaiah 40:28-31 marked out for him, the verse we prayed over him.

And as I walked back into the convention center… I was still physically tired. But something in my spirit was alive. The verse we had studied earlier in the day came to my mind as I was wondering about why I wasn’t about to collapse, “‘My food,’ said Jesus, ‘is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work'”. I smiled at His whisper.

—–

I am constantly in awe of how God knows exactly when and how to refresh my heart. His whisper is constantly coming to me, trying to catch my attention. In the midst of all the tiredness I experience in ministry, I wonder how many times I simply ignore His whisper and wallow in my tiredness. But I remember, I must continue to wait on the Lord. As I reflect on God’s goodness and how He continually replenished my tired heart, I remember the verse God gave me to tell Tony:

Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.

He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.

Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;

but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

– Isaiah 40:28-31

Perhaps in the midst of my tiredness, the verse wasn’t just for Tony, but a reminder for myself. It’s funny how when we are tired of listening, we find replenishment by listening even more to the Lord. It’s strange that as a minister of the gospel, listening, the very thing that brings weariness to my impatient heart, can surprisingly give me life, just as Larry literally snuck up on me in the midst of my deepest fatigue. Even as there will be so many opportunities in this next semester to check out in fatigue and emotional weariness, I remember to hope in in the Lord, and that he will make me soar on wings like eagles. Lord, don’t let my weariness keep me from noticing Your voice, the source of true rest.

To Feel (a.k.a. “There and Back Again, a hobbit’s tale”)

(disclaimer: apologies for the length and the introspectiveness of this entry… it’s one of those “thought-vomit” entries without much form (smart people call that stream of conscious, but let’s be realistic- it’s thought vomit.))

I didn’t want to go in. That night, our assignment as the Urbana Prayer Ministry team was to go and do prayer ministry at the Urbana Poverty Track. The poverty track was a special track for students who were passionate about and wanted to follow God’s call to the poor. The reason they needed us there that night was that they were going to do a session of lament, where they would release students to mourn and lament at the state of injustice of our world. And I didn’t want to be there. Too many old scars…

—————-

My final paper in undergrad was 25 page paper on my journey through my 4 years at UCSD (I think it’s actually in UCSD’s 6th College CAT 125 reader… Why I got in the reader but my grade was a B-, I don’t know… but that’s for another entry). I described the self-reflective experience as entering a dark Fangorn-like forest (If you don’t get it, read the 2 towers by Tolkien, i don’t have time to explain my nerdiness lol). Dark, wet, old, dirty… and angry. Old and bitter. It was scary to let myself wander back into those last 4 years- where God did a lot in my life, but was also the source of much pain. I looked at how my identity shifted in the areas of my ethnicity, faith and my role as a member of academia. The tearing apart of each of those 3 areas was mentally violent, and there was a point in those years where the deconstruction of my identity was so intense that I had decided to abandon my faith in God (which in retrospect, was just me being passive aggressive, but again… that’s for another entry). In my wanderings of self-critique and deconstruction, I often felt surrounded and directionless no matter where I ran (if I could run and not trip), it was just endless darkness, I was covered in dirt, always running away from my fears, but in doing so, running straight into them.

In the end (at least at the end of my paper), all of a sudden, I emerged out of the dark wood, and found myself at the shores of a beautiful pristine lake. I said something about the journey being worth it to get to where I ended up, no matter the scars (Yeah, a little optimistic and cheesy, but that’s really what I think about my journey). By the end of my senior year, I felt like the process of reconstruction had begun.

In these last 3 years, I’ve learned a lot about myself, post-dark-forest, as I’ve let God reform my identity. In my time of reflection of my undergrad years, and with the help of my mentor Natalia kicking me in the butt a few times, I’ve realized how much of that dark season was triggered by my emotions.

You might be scratching your head at this statement. Let me clarify. I grew up in a Christian context where I constantly heard people say “faith is not an emotion, but it is fact and reason”. While I agreed with that, in my Asian-American Christian context, where male Asian-Americans already don’t show that many emotions, I found it damaging and unbalanced. People were already so apathetic, why give them a reason to be apathetic? Non-emotion, to me, was not faith but flat out apathy. So during my junior high and high school years, I made a commitment with myself to never be like the typical non-emotive Asian-American male that I met every day at school and at church. I didn’t want to be a stone. I wanted to FEEL. I wanted to know the tears that God shed. I wanted to know the joys that God felt. Emotions were my freedom from my cultural baggage, my spiritual release.

I got what I asked for while I was at UCSD. A little too much. I began to feel God’s anger at white cultural oppression as I had to interact with my first white roommates. I began to feel God’s sadness for the oppressed peoples of the world, many of them oppressed as the result of America’s imperialistic thirst for power. I began to feel God’s disgust at fake and staged religion. I could feel God’s fatherly despair as I interacted with orphans in China. It’s funny. The emotions that gave me such spiritual life and fervor… began to taste like poison.

And one day, I snapped. In my heart, I was telling God (with my spiritual middle finger stuck up), “If You’re feeling all of this, then WHY THE HELL AREN’T YOU !@#$ing DOING ANYTHING?” That fury-filled moment started my journey into the dark forest. My journal at that time was filled with tears from the times I would press my pen too hard against the pages, as I wrote several times in huge capital letters, “GOD WHERE ARE YOU????”

In the end, I came back. It was a long, inarticulatable journey… I still have trouble telling people why I came back, only that I’m sure it was the right choice. Even after a 25 page paper on it, I’m really not sure how I got out of the forest… only that by God’s grace I came out. But the result of that season was that although I still knew that emotions were a healthy reality, I feared them. I made sure they always stayed in control and didn’t  control myself. I would never let my emotions lead me to an implosion again.

—————-

Sitting in the Urbana plenary, I reflected back on these… wow… past 10+ years, something in me (haha maybe God) told me I needed to go and join the rest of the prayer team. I had politely told our leaders that I did not feel emotionally able to sit through a half hour of purposeful mourning. At first, I just wandered by the room, to see what they were doing. Then my feet stopped. I found myself in the pre-session briefing for prayer ministers. Before I knew it, I was sitting in the room.

The lady in the front of the room was telling the students about her time in missions… how she encountered injustice that was so dark, ugly and bitter… it left her in conflict and frustration… asking God “why?” And she was telling the students to dwell in that tension. I know that tension too well, and I initially didn’t want to participate. I didn’t want to tear open old scars.

She stepped off the stage. At first it was a tense silence, in that room with about 300 students. Then there were sniffles at first. I resisted remembering. Then there were whimpers. I began to feel the gentle invitation of the Holy Spirit. As my eyes were closed, I could see their faces again- the blind, the cripple, the deaf, the homeless, the stuck. Around me, the whimpers had grown to all out wailing around me. And all of a sudden, I began to do what I hadn’t done in a while- I began to mourn. I mourned the tension between the Kingdom being “here” but “not yet”. We say that with such optimism, but what about those stuck in the “not yet”, never experiencing the “here”? I mourned some of my students, of whom I had come to the end of myself and just had no more ability to love without it hurting. I mourned the countless Chinese students I had taught English, but would probably be stuck in an economically unbalanced system where the rich get richer and they, the poor, would get poorer. I mourned the migrant workers I see everyday in front of Home Depot and try to ignore in fear that I would care too much. I mourned the homeless I had sat down with, and attempted to have conversation with, only to find that their sanity had been stolen by years of loneliness and post-traumatic syndrome.

I mourned. And then I heard Him speak. “These aren’t for you to hold onto. They’re mine. Let me take care of it.” The mourning was real, and it was God’s, but for all these years, I had become overwhelmed by them because they weren’t my burdens to carry… they were the tears of God, not my own tears. I realized that in the past I had simply forgotten that I was not able to handle the burden. God invites us to share in His heart for the world, but He doesn’t demand that we hold onto it to the point of self-destruction. Volf writes that when God gives us something, it requires that we respond back in faith. It requires an acknowledgement that it comes from Him. And it leads us to a place where we can experience His redemption.

I stopped mourning. Simply because… I felt I was done. Like when you’ve cried so hard that there’s nothing left to cry about. Except for myself, it was a sweet surrender. Not an ignorance. But surrender to the one who was strong enough and in control enough to hold all of that mourning and… hope. I know some to some of you (for my agnostic/atheist friends) look at this in disgust as a religion that forms as a crutch for the weak… And really… that’s all it is.

We are all crippled in this world, paralyzed by the insurmountable amount of pain and mourning which we cannot escape. It would be arrogance to deny that we are in need of freedom from our brokenness. If I am to believe that God is a good God, it would be denying His power to not trust Him. My faith demands that I trust in this God, for it is my only hope to stop mourning, get up, and walk.

And He calls me to walk… not away from the pain but straight back. He calls me to walk back into the forest. But this time, not lost, not afraid, not in confusion. But in confidence, hope and love, stemmed from knowing that He never left me during that season, and He never will. Even further, He longs to transform that forest from a place of fear and darkness… to a place of freedom and redemption.

No. Not all of my questions have been answered.

Yes. I’m still in the tension between the “here” and the “not yet”. But I’ve realized that I am not to hold the burden by myself. And yes, I still feel, and I feel strongly. But it is only a curse when I do it alone. It is still a blessing, and a blessing that my students need to know and experience. Can I let God turn me into a model of healthy emotion- where I am not a robot, but I’m also not ruled by those emotions? Can God transform the brokenness of my past to bring freedom to those He has called me to love?

As God is inviting me to “feel” again in this season, that’s my hope and prayer.

—————-

I walked out of the room. What a strange peace. Sometimes, you don’t know why you’ve been feeling so uncomfortable lately and for some reason joy is not a reality at hand.  And you realize that all you needed to do was to do some healthy mourning. It’s in the open expression of our mourning that we can leave it in the hands of He who mourns the most… but is the source of a hope that stills that very mourning.

I opened the door and walked outside and felt the cold air on my face and sighed with relief. As the warm air from my sigh turned to mist in sharp coldness of the St. Louis air, I knew I was being invited to “feel” again. But not alone. In the chill of the air, I felt a strange warmness. I heard the beating of His heart.

I was invited not to feel on my own… but to catch the rhythms of His heart again, to walk with Him. To feel His heart was not the ends, but to be with Him was the ends.

And in the midst of mourning I felt… joy.

Live to be Forgotten.

I was uncomfortable. No, it wasn’t the crowd of 17,000 people at Urbana all in the stadium. It wasn’t the sudden change from shivering cold to stuffy heat of the 17,000 people. It wasn’t the cold plastic of the stadium chair I was in. It wasn’t the flashing lights. It was intimidation. The intimidation I was feeling was not from what most people are intimidated from. It wasn’t a machine of war. It was not an ominous building. It was not a roaring unstoppable train. It was not a vicious wild beast with hunger in its eyes.

It was the frail, older Chinese man who spoke from the stage. Though I’ve had so much healing and redemption from my interactions with the older generations, it still sometimes gives me a rush of anxiety. I have memories of feeling squashed and silenced by elders. Perhaps I misunderstood them when I was younger, and they were probably silencing my immaturity, but the intimidation was there nonetheless. Would this older O.B.C (overseas born chinese) be able to speak with any relevancy to my generation… or even just understand us?

I cringed even more at the title of his new book, “Live to be forgotten”. That phrase stirred up memories, hard memories. Memories of realizing how deep invisibility, saving face, and false humility have left our culture crippled. I am proud to be Asian-American, and I believe that God has specific purposes for creating me as an Asian-American, with giftedness and blessing that can bless others. But our propensity to hiding and not being known to the point of sinfulness was something I had lived under for far too long and had discovered freedom from. I was tired of how that facet of my cultural context had led me into bitterness and fearfulness of confrontation. There is blessing in our culture, but there is baggage. And my immediate gut reaction was that this man was glorifying our baggage.

But God can redeem our baggage.

This man spoke of his struggle to follow God’s call, even when his parents thought it was foolishness. In the face of pressure from his elders, he chose to follow God. He looked like the abstract personification of years of broken assumptions about the older generation in my mind and even sounded like them with the broken English. But he spoke as one who had experienced God’s freedom and was caught up in His movement.

And the image that inspired the title of his book left me dumbfounded. The thought of it still bothers and challenges me as I write about it a week later. He spoke of walking into a huge warehouse in London which was an archive of all of the people who had responded to God’s call to go to China during the great missions movement of which people like Hudson Taylor were a part of. Of course, there were well known names there… but they were lost in the shelves and shelves of files and writings of people who had been part of that movement. Hundreds, thousands, maybe tens of thousands of people whom we don’t even remember anymore, who decided to respond to God’s call even if they were not remembered. I remember listening to Patrick Fung speak of this, and realizing that their individual legacies were forgotten, but that Christians of Chinese descent held such a huge debt to these forgotten heroes. If they had not dared to be forgotten, would I be following Christ today? The sacrifice of their individual legacies were the building blocks of a roaring, vibrant legacy of God’s pursuit of my people.

And for an Asian-American that has wrestled so long to even let myself be recognized… it’s a sobering reminder that recognition is not the ends. My biggest fear 2.5 years ago when God called me to North County to minister at a community college called MiraCosta of which almost nobody had heard about was that I myself would be forgotten. It’s ironic. And no, I haven’t been forgotten. In fact, God has elevated me to levels of leadership I had never dreamed of getting to so quickly. God has surrounded me with community and students… I have not been forgotten at all. In fact, He’s using me as a voice for the forgotten, that God’s heart burns for every single one of these students. So many of my students feel like they’ve been forgotten and left behind by society, and that there’s no way for them to get out. No, they are not forgotten. My God knows each and every one of them, He meticulously created each of them as the expression of His unswerving love. The world forgets, the Lord never forgets.

Will I dare to live forgotten by the world in order that God’s children are able to see that their God will never forget them? As I follow the call of God on my life, will I be confident that the very fact that my calling is from God is a symbol of his ever-attentiveness, and that HE will not abandon me, no matter how abandoned I feel by the world around me?

And I realized… Our God redeems our baggage. Somebody who was supposed to represent all the broken assumptions and perceptions I had of older authority from my culture was now a shining light of humility and redemption. No longer was it false humility and submission to oppression, but a vibrant, earth shattering humility that was stemmed in the confidence that the Lord remembers every one of His servants that follow His call. And though they be forgotten by the world, He will never fail to bring to fruition the forgotten dreams of thousands who had sacrificed and suffered for the sake of His Kingdom and love breaking into this world. The world may forget those that choose to respond to the call (as my students may even forget who I am within a few years), but when God meets this world, everything changes and those changes can be denied, but cannot be forgotten.

I sat there no longer intimidated by this older Chinese man. I could see he was not against me, and was not silencing me… but he was blessing me. He was showing me that there was a redeemed side of the cultural baggage of which I had tried so hard to run away from. I was humbled at the revelation of my own discrimination and assumptions of the older generation. And yes, in this moment, I’m reminded that Patrick Fung is not the first of many of the older generation that represent God’s redemption in their lives, and that I have been blessed by many of them (some of you who are reading this now). As God strips off my old assumptions and brokenness, I hope my eyes are opened more to see how God has worked and is still working in the lives of the generations before me in the Chinese diaspora.

And I was left with a sense of awe… in the forgotten shadow of those that had gone before me so that I could be following Christ today. Whether it was a white missionary, a house church leader, the first pastors of immigrant churches, my own parents and grand parents… they are the cloud of witnesses that urges me to go forward and not to fear being forgotten by the world in order that His children remember that they will never be forgotten by the One who created them and is ever pursuing them.